Monday, February 7, 2011

Opinion Piece from George Kuh


I received this opinion piece from Dr. George Kuh which he requested be posted to ACPA members. It has already been shared with NASPA’s membership.

Susan Salvador
It’s Time
I’ve read with interest over past months the pros and cons posted by colleagues about the proposed consolidation of ACPA and NASPA. I have friends in both camps, and have learned a good deal from their reasoned arguments. But nothing has changed the view I’ve held on this issue for at least 20 years or so. For the student affairs profession to use its educational philosophy and empirical and theoretical knowledge about students and campus environments to demonstrably influence higher education policy as well as institutional practice in a real-time, coherent fashion, the field needs to speak in one informed, respected voice. So, color me unequivocally in favor of bringing ACPA and NASPA together to form one overarching association to unify the profession. And the sooner the better. Consolidation is long overdue.

There was a time when ACPA and NASPA differed in substantive and occasionally in procedural ways about their priorities and policy positions, and how they addressed the professional development needs of student affairs staff at different points in their careers. I suspect an analysis of the topics featured several decades ago at their national and regional meetings and their governing board actions would illustrate some of these differences. I’ve been a member of and attended most national meetings of the two groups for about 35 years and no longer discern meaningful differences. This realization became all-too-clear to me years ago when trying to explain in response to the annual queries of graduate students what distinguished the two groups. I had to rely on historical artifacts to come up with examples. Of course, these mattered little to them and were not helpful as they pondered which group to join or meeting to attend.

I intend no disrespect to the histories, traditions and other cultural properties of ACPA and NASPA. They have and will continue to be important – especially to long-time members of the groups. But I fail to see today how they matter in material ways to the professional practice of student affairs or the future development of the field and its practitioners, or to institutional leaders and faculty members who look to student affairs for guidance on how to respond to issues of the day. And if some differences between the cultures of the two groups do exist as some have suggested, they do not begin to offset the influence that one recognized, well-resourced association can have in today’s crowded, noisy, policy environment where economic constraints are forcing hard choices about what to continue to support at both institutional and personal levels.

It’s comforting to hold on to the past, especially when facing uncertainty. In the present instance, consolidation puzzles some because nothing seems to be obviously broken. Another non-trivial challenge is that few analogues provide guidance for how the proposed consolidation can be achieved efficiently and effectively. I cannot begin to imagine the many details to be addressed. I admire and salute those who’ve already begun to flesh them out. Surely there will be a period during which the products and services presently offered by each organization are interrupted or are not integrated as seamlessly as we want. It will be messy with unpredictable bumps along the way, even with all the deliberations and planning that have and will continue. If you fly frequently, you’ve also experienced firsthand some such irritants, such as the computer systems of merged airlines such as Delta and Northwest failing to function as they should. I’m getting another taste of this as Continental and United work toward similar ends. But as with any other decision to bring large organizations together, people of good will can make it happen if given enough time, support and understanding.

The accomplishments of ACPA and NASPA are many and both groups have served the field and their members well. But the world order has changed. Neither staying separate nor consolidation guarantees a bright future for the profession or the millions of students and faculty at colleges and universities across the country who benefit in known and unknown ways from the contributions of student affairs staff. My bet is that coming decades will demand responses from student affairs best orchestrated by a single organization with clout and a vision for higher education and the student experience informed by clear thinking and relevant research. Speaking with one voice and acting as one unified professional body is more likely to achieve those ends in a future marked by increasing complexity, escalating demands, and stretched resources. I’m bullish on consolidation, even with all the unknowns that are part and parcel of the process and resulting structure. It’s time.

George D. Kuh is Director of the National Institute for Learning Outcomes Assessment, Adjunct Professor at the University of Illinois, and Chancellor’s Professor Emeritus at Indiana University.

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